For what must be the 25th time in 10 years, Hong Kong is to become the world’s Yuan hub. This whole charade of Mainland leaders coming into town and announcing minuscule measures to loosen national policy as if they will have a noticeable impact and are designed for the benefit of Hong Kong is getting a bit tired. Maybe it made sense to alarmed Beijing officials to indulge in such silly PR stunts in the wake of the 2003 semi-uprising, but it’s hard to see what this is supposed to achieve today other than to allow fawning local leaders and media-owners an opportunity to do some embarrassing public cheerleading in praise of the honoured guest and his large box of gifts.
Still, the establishment’s mass-adulation of Vice Premier Li’s generosity gives Justice Secretary Wong Yan-lung an opportunity to be barely noticed as he makes his first public utterance since what seems like a very long time ago (and maybe we imagined it then). He pleads with us all to try to avoid screeching anything that could prejudice or affect the Court of First Instance’s judgement in the judicial review of overseas maids’ right to permanent residency.
Such a statement is apparently unprecedented, yet this is hardly the first-ever court case to excite widespread public interest and wild comment. This suggests that someone in government is worried that emotions are getting far too heated. There is a danger that a ruling against the maids – which is quite possible – will be seen here and abroad as the result of political pressure when it wasn’t. There is also a danger that Hong Kong’s reputation, such as it is, for being a groovy, hip, happy and modern city would be damaged by the inflated rhetoric and its racist undertones. Interestingly, yesterday also saw Vice-Premier Li call for Hong Kong to protect its rule of law, and China Daily helpfully printed an at-a-glance, panic-free, reassuring and objective guide to where the judicial review could lead.
For the administration to try to calm everyone down before the first maid’s case opens on Monday is a bit rich, since it surely set off the Vast-Flood-of-Brown-People Scare in the first place by announcing in late July that 120,000 maids had lived here for seven years. The Democratic Alliance for the Blah Blah of HK almost immediately announced their blood-curdling warnings of mass immigration, unemployment and welfare bills, and lawmaker Regina Ip’s group began calling for Beijing to ‘interpret’ the Basic Law on the matter. (Paul Tse, legislator for the tourism – of all things – industry beat everyone to it several days before all this but is too eccentric to count.)
Just a few days later, on August 1, Wong’s Justice Department lawyers prepared to submit their late affidavit to the court containing the official apocalyptic vision of Hong Kong swamped with Filipino welfare addicts and their millions of starving pickaninnies. Subsequently, the Liberal Party went for the Civic Party’s jugular on the issue, demanding it declare itself pro- or anti-brown people – a CP lawyer acting on the maids’ side.
In short, it looks very much as if the government contrived and indeed coordinated the panic rather than simply added to it after it began (and it certainly did nothing at all to soothe people’s irrational fears). It would have done so to get at the Civic Party, and it would have had two motives. One is to undercut the CP’s chances at November’s District Council elections. These polls are a bit less trivial than usual, as the electorate will return five of the winners to the Legislative Council in 2012. The other is simply revenge and spite. The CP outraged the government with its sneaky but ill-timed by-elections-as-referendum stunt last year, made officials planning to ban by-elections look stupid more recently and probably hope to get one of its smarmy smart-alec lawyers to nominally run against and humiliate Henry Tang or whoever Beijing chooses to be our next leader.
It would be nice to think that Chief Executive Donald Tsang and his pals are not as childish or petty as that. But it’s hard.
Meanwhile, Vice-Premier Li urges Hong Kong to pursue harmonious development and make life better for its people, and make itself a more dynamic and innovative city.